Shoplifters: Smile. You're on camera

“They are more worried about being embarrassed on Facebook than being caught by the police.

“We are going to post these videos on Facebook, on Instagram, on YouTube. It is starting to work, so I don’t care what anyone says about it.”
— Prentice Panton, owner, Reflections

The preceding is a plea for justice from a Caymanian businessman who has lost his patience with the people who continue to steal from him, and, finally, his faith in the system that is supposed to safeguard his livelihood.

The Cayman Compass’s official position on such so-called “name and shame” campaigns is we’re against them … but that doesn’t mean we don’t empathize fully with Mr. Panton’s frustrations.

For some 20 years now as he has built up his businesses, Mr. Panton has been engaged in ground-level warfare against miscreants and ne’er-do-wells. In addition to burglaries, shootings and gunpoint robberies, Mr. Panton’s stores have been targeted continually by lower-profile criminals whose offenses — shoplifting — may be considered petty in the individual instance, but in the accumulation pose a far greater threat to Mr. Panton’s entrepreneurial existence than any single “major” crime.

It is eminently understandable that Mr. Panton is in desperate need of assistance in identifying and apprehending the perpetrators. While the Compass would prefer that police first be contacted for help — Mr. Panton has done that, again and again over the years, but with only one offender ever brought to court.

Police and prosecutors aren’t being effective, so Mr. Panton has taken matters into his own hands, by beaming images of suspected shoplifters (apparently caught in the act by CCTV cameras) into Cayman’s online community.

We do not criticize Mr. Panton’s entry into “broadcasting,” but we harbor concerns about any “outsourcing” of basic law enforcement functions. Here’s why: Whenever the private sector volunteers to pick up the slack for the public sector, it relieves government of the burden of accountability and provides an incentive for continued neglect of their official obligations.

For certain, the responsibility for law enforcement and criminal justice belongs squarely in the public sector. Neither Mr. Panton nor anyone else in the Cayman Islands should have to resort to Facebook in order to get criminal suspects booked into jail.

At root, all Cayman has — economically speaking — is its reputation. The supplanting of “safety and stability” by “danger and lawlessness” in the minds of tourists and investors will sink our three precious gems into the sea far faster than even the boldest predictions of climate change.

Admittedly, “name and shame” does possess a certain sirenic allure — as evidenced by Mr. Panton’s statement that his social media campaign has already begun to produce results. Yet, we would caution that most times those results, while immediate, will only be superficial. Just like those “hot checks” plastered near convenience store counters, it won’t be long before the photos and videos of red-handed shoplifters merge into the stream of media and subside into the background of the general consciousness, never to be viewed again.

The only sure way to stop shoplifting, or any crime, is the traditional way — through arrests, charges and prosecutions, within an efficient and equitable justice system. That way, the naming occurs in due course, and the shaming is appended as necessary, according to the innocence or guilt of the individual accused.

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  1. I do agree somewhat that by taking on the job you do let those meant to be doing it off the hook, but I also think that the results speak for themselves. The virtual shaming seems to have struck a chord with the younger generation and perhaps the traditional methods employed by the establishment need to catch up with today’s youth. If the traditional approach of arrest and punishment (hopeful!) isn’t a deterrent then maybe law enforcement need to adapt to what does constitute a deterrent. In short let the Police do the naming and shaming via electronic media and a voluntary acceptance of punishment to take it down, maybe 50 hours community service for a first offence shoplifter?

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  2. Although the shoplifters are shamed, I really think it is the police who are being shamed in this situation. Their lack of action, accountability,responsibility is clearly evident. This is just another example of the ineffectiveness of the current police force. There needs to be an overhaul of the police department with new leadership and direction that places a priority on crime control whether it be the increasing burglaries, robberies,gang violence, or shoplifting. There has been an undisputed rise in crime on this beautiful island over the last year and it has not been matched with a rise in police efforts.

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  3. Mr Panton, I would do the very same thing you are doing by posting the photos of these petty crime low lives who deserve to be more than ashamed in front of public viewing. I am of the view that whether the crime is petty or on a larger scale, the individuals must be punished! It is true that the police are not ‘really’ taking much action with such crime issues and SOMETHING has to be done. A crime is a crime and must be punishable to the extent of the law

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  4. It is the beauty of social media. It has nothing to do with name and shame. Mr. Panton is using social media as many other do in spreading the word, both with copy, photo and video to get the message across. There have been many cases of abuse, theft, even the FedEx guy throwing the 52 television over the fence that created a pathway for justice to be served. Putting names to the faces for the police to follow up on? I see nothing wrong with that.

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  5. Agreed that the only effective way to stop shoplifting and other crimes is through arrests and prosecution. The big problem here is what happens if this is not being done and the crimes persist? He who feels it knows it and knows it more that anyone else. No doubt Mr. Panton has had it up to his eyeballs with the existing situation. And even if the success of his actions (though drastic) maybe short lived, he may feel a measure of relief that he is doing what is needed to curb the perpetrators.

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